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Top WR Zanellato poised to transfer from Robinson to Lake Braddock

By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010; 10:00 PM

Robinson junior receiver Matt Zanellato, a first-team all-Northern Region pick last season, is transferring to play for rival school Lake Braddock, the reigning Virginia AAA Division 6 runner-up.

Zanellato hopes to transfer by late March. His parents, Tim and Christine, said they are selling their home and will move into the Lake Braddock school district. Zanellato likely will be a focal point in the Bruins' spread offense that averaged 31.5 points per game last season, and the family hopes that playing in that offense will improve Zanellato's skills and college marketability.

"The whole move to Braddock isn't about . . . making sure he gets a ton of catches," Christine Zanellato said. "We looked at prep schools and realized that really close to home there is another high school that is comparable academically, athletically and has a program that would be a good fit for Matt at the position he's going to want to play in college.

"The skill work that he has to develop is pretty specific, and looking at Braddock, it looks like a really good opportunity for him to go there. It's not about not liking Robinson. Robinson's a great place."

In other football news:

South Lakes has hired longtime Park View coach Andy Hill for its football opening and Woodgrove, a new school in Purcellville set to open in the fall, has hired Potomac Falls defensive coordinator Jerry Gordon to be its first coach.

Meantime, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Zanellato is poised to team with junior quarterback Michael Nebrich, the 2009 region offensive player of the year, to give the Bruins a formidable attack next season. Nebrich threw for 3,289 yards and 22 touchdowns last season in leading Lake Braddock to a 12-3 record, including a win over Robinson in the region semifinals.

"I'm pretty excited," Zanellato said, "as excited as any receiver would be to move to a spread offense. When we first considered leaving, I told my mom it would be crazy going to Lake Braddock. I said, 'That's the rival school, mom. There's no way I'd ever leave Robinson to go to Braddock.' But we realized it was the best thing for me to do."

Robinson Coach Mark Bendorf declined to comment on Zanellato's transfer.

It's an interesting move on several levels. Zanellato will leave Robinson, which is coming off its best season since 2004 and which has not posted a losing record since 1989, for what has traditionally been the Rams' main rival. The schools are 4.5 miles apart.

Then there's the pairing with Nebrich. Although Zanellato caught 40 of Robinson's 55 completed passes last season, three Lake Braddock receivers caught 40 or more passes in 15 games, including 73 for senior Brandon Johnson, another all-region selection.

Then consider that Robinson, which had beaten Lake Braddock every season for a decade before the 38-7 playoff loss, in recent years has sent several players to Division I schools, including Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Virginia, Notre Dame and Navy. Tim Zanellato teaches math at Robinson and coaches freshman basketball there. And when the family moved to the area five years ago, the homes they considered were in the Robinson and Lake Braddock attendance areas.

By transferring this spring, Zanellato said he will become more familiar with his new school and new teammates. He also will play in passing leagues with the Bruins, with whom he hopes to improve his route running, burst speed, separation from defenders and ability to read defenses.

Zanellato, who attended the University of Virginia's junior day, said that most of his Robinson teammates have been supportive of the transfer.

"They know I've been all about Robinson," he said. "I wouldn't be doing this on a whim. I have good reason to be leaving. Anyone who really knows football and knows Lake Braddock has the spread would understand why and how it's the best thing for me to do for college.

"Colleges like to see you. You don't have to have big stats to be recruited, but you have to have one breakout year. In my opinion, I really haven't had a breakout year where I can really display my ability. I've not really shown I could be as good as I think I can be."

Zanellato, who started for two-plus seasons at Robinson, caught 40 passes for 624 yards and scored six touchdowns last season playing in an offense that featured two 1,300-yard rushers -- Concorde District Offensive Player of the Year Connor Riley, a senior, and junior Jared Velasquez.

Lake Braddock Coach Jim Poythress said that he considered Zanellato's transfer a "blessing" and that he has fielded calls from a handful of families inside and outside Northern Virginia who are considering moving into the school's attendance zone based in part on the Bruins' success last season, when they reached the state playoffs for the first time since 1995 and the championship for the first time ever.

The Bruins have gone 37-19 since an 0-10 season in 2004, Poythress's first with the program.

"I've sat on the other side of the fence when Robinson was winning all those games and they had people move into their building many, many times," Poythress said, mentioning other schools with similar transfers in recent years.

"I was probably sitting with the have-nots at the time, [thinking], well, they must be getting these guys in somehow, right? But now we're on the other side of the fence and have gone to the highest level of the state, a lot of it is out of your control. That's what people and parents want to do.

"People are going to say what they want, no matter what. As long as you can go to bed at night with a clear conscience, that's good enough. As far as I'm concerned, it's an issue for the Zanellato family. It's a family decision that they're making, and I don't really want to be in the middle of that."

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